New Head-Fier
Empire Ears ESR Mk 1 Review- Character!
Pros: Fun V-shaped sound signature, build quality, comfort, accessories, great cable, sparks of technical proficiency
Cons: Slightly bigger shells for a 3 driver IEM, polarizing sound signature, the hotter treble section can make the ESR fatiguing to listen to (rectified with foam tips), slight metallic tonality in some songs
The ESR Mk 1 was the first Empire Ears IEM that I tried extensively courtesy of a dear friend of mine. Empire Ears is an American family owned establishment that has been around for about 30 years or so. They handcraft their products in the USA and are proud of the attention to detail lavished upon them. They apparently inspect their IEMs under a microscope before shipping them out. Their lineup (available in universal and custom fits) is broadly divided into two:

1. X Series- Purported to be ‘raw and instinctive, unwavering in its singular purpose: to overwhelm the auditory senses through the vigorous spirit and emotion of a live performance’- I think that translates to a heavily colored sound signature. The lineup presently consists of Odin, Hero, Legend X, Bravado MkII, Valkyrie MkII and Legend Evo.

2. EP Series- The Empire Professional Series is supposed to their reference audio division. They employ a raft of technologies like synX crossovers (apparently has more bandwidth per driver), anti-resonance compound (dampening technique to reduce resonance of components), proprietary balanced armature and electrostatic drivers and high end Effect Audio cables. The lineup presently consists of Wraith and ESR MkII. I had tried out the ESR MkI which had three proprietary Empire Ears balanced armatures managed by a 4 way synX crossover as opposed to its successor (ESR MkII) which has a five driver setup (three balanced armatures and two electrostatic drivers).

I should probably mention that I have a significant preference to the classic rock, heavy metal and progressive rock genres and I hadn’t listened to songs from other genres with this IEM. I had tried out this IEM using two sources- local 16 & 24 bit lossless audio files on my Android phone + Lotoo PAW S2 and secondly, through a Lotoo PAW 6000.


3 BA drivers (proprietary Empire Ears drivers)
4-way crossover
Frequency Response
10 Hz to 40 KHz
19.3 Ohms @ 1 KHz
112 dB @ 1 Khz
Proprietary Tech
ARC anti resonance tech, synX crossover

Build Quality: The classy and kind of menacing looking black 3D printed shells with the Empire Ears logo on them were well made out of medical grade resin. The ESR came with a high end Effect Audio Ares II UP-OCC Litz removable cable that plugged into the flush 2 pin connector sockets of the ESR’s shell. I could not find any seams or mold joints in the shell. The build quality was top notch. As mentioned before, Empire Ears had employed their own proprietary balanced armature drivers and crossover network for the ESR.

Accessories: The ESR had extravagant packaging. It came in a black box with the Empire Ears logo embossed on it. The box contained a black colored metal carry case that was lined with silicon inside, cleaning cloth, and an assortment of Final Audio Type E tips. The whole experience screamed high end and Empire Ears aced it here.

Comfort: The semi custom contours fit me very well. Though the shells were a smidgen larger than usual for something with a triple driver setup I was still quite comfortable with them. Those with smaller ears should try it out for fit.

Isolation and cable microphonics: I had tried out the ESR with a pair of medium sized silicon tips which fit me well and were very comfortable. I had also tried out the ESR with a pair of medium sized foam tips. Sound isolation was good with both tips. The cable deserves a special mention again. This was the nicest cable I saw that came stock with any of the IEMs that I had tried out during that session. The output jack was the very definition of over engineering. The cable was supple and microphonics were almost non existent while sitting down and listening to music.

Drivability: The ESR had an impedance of 19.3 Ohms and sensitivity of 112 dB and both of my sources were able to drive these easily.

Sound Quality: After coming from trying out a set of neutral IEMs, the ESR’s sonic signature was like a shot of expresso in the morning. Empire Ears might have marketed this under their professional lineup stating that it has flat, pure, unadulterated reference class sound, but after listening to them, I wasn’t entirely sure that the ESR came under that bracket.
  • Bass: Slightly boosted bass. Nice attack, slam and impact when called for in a song. Details were also very much present without mush or bloat.
  • Midrange: The mids also had a slight boost, especially the lower part of the midrange. This lend more thickness to instrument notes. I had felt that the upper mids were comparatively more subdued than something like the Studio 4.
  • Treble: However, the treble section, especially the lower part was hotter than neutral. This gave the impression of clarity and air in the sound signature.
  • Technical Performance:
    • Soundstage: Good- wide and with sufficient depth. Instruments did not feel too intimate nor did they sound cluttered or muddied.
    • Details and resolution: For a triple driver setup, the ESR was no slouch in this department. Though details were very much present and accounted for, these kind of missed the refinement memo. This could also be attributed to the hotter treble signature. However, these IEMs are not as forgiving of the flaws in low res lossy files and recordings.
    • Instrument separation: Again, for a triple driver IEM, instrument separation was very good.
Verdict: I think the ESR has a v- shaped sound signature instead of a neutral one! I like v- shaped sound signatures and for all its flaws, I loved listening to the ESR since it had character and went well with the kind of sleazy rock music that I listen to. This has good technical capabilities, but can be fatiguing to listen for longer sessions. For comparison sake, if the neutral IEMs are like track focused Porsches, the ESR felt like the older hot rodded Mustangs with live axles- not terribly sophisticated around the corners, but they are fast and fun! The build quality, cable and the accessory bundle are excellent. However, the ESR should be tried out before one pulls the trigger.

Note: I had also tried out the ESR with foam tips and I felt that boosted the low end a bit more and tamed the hot treble on deeper insertion.
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100+ Head-Fier
Empire Ears ESR (Empire Studio Reference)
Pros: Powerful, controlled bass, ever so close natural and realistic mids, controlled and non-fatiguing treble, realistic stage depth and layering, pin point imaging
Cons: slight metallic timbre
A studio reference IEM; Ohh great it is going to be boring!

Empire Ears and my ears haven't always gotten along; we've tolerated each other but haven't had many moments of enjoyment. Does the ESR change that?

Disclaimer: I purchased the Empire Ears ESR used with my own funds. I was not influenced, pressured or paid to provide this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Purchase/More Information:

3 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers (1 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High)
4-Way synX Crossover Network
A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
Impedance: 19.3 ohms @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 40kHz
Sensitivity 112dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio

(Empire Ears: "Every aspect of the ESR was conceived, designed, and crafted to faithfully reproduce what the artist had intended. With the expertise of producers and mix engineers, including 2x GRAMMY Award winner, Michael Graves, we were able to understand firsthand what they require from in-ear monitors.")


The Empire Ears ESR is an uninspired, universal build. The ESR is rather bland looking, with the only noticeable markings being the EE logo on each shell. The all black shell with silver logo doesn't draw attention to itself like a lot of the offerings in the price range. I like the simplistic look and actually find it rather appealing.








The overall build is high quality, the 3d printed shell feels premium. The design is curved slightly and has a nozzle angle that isn't too short or too long, the nozzle is proper length for me. The shell is somewhere between small and chunky but it just works. The weight of the shells is very light. The ESR fits me like a glove. One thing of note, the nozzle does lack a lip thus some tips can have random moments of slipping off, this includes the stock Final Type E tips.

The included carry case is large and built solid, has plenty of protection but is too large for pockets.

The Effect Audio Cable is amazing and I love it; it looks and feels premium. The cable is well behaved, doesn't tangle or twist and the ear hooks are just the right amount of tension and memory.

The included Final Type E tips are some of my favorites and Empire Ears picked them specifically to use with the ESR. I find that the tip choice is a solid option that sounds very good but the 8k peak can be a bit intense at times. So, I actually prefer the JVC Spiral Dots a tad more; fit is slightly better for my ears and I also found that there was a small addition of air to the mids and treble that helped tame the 8k peak slightly. Isolation and separation of outside noises is good but not great; excellent for office settings, about average for mass transit. The ESR is extremely comfortable and I can wear them for hours upon hours; I have worn them for a full 8 hours without discomfort.


(I am not a professional producer or sound engineer but I do run the soundboard (Allen & Heath QU-24) at my church each week. I don't have any studio experience or training for a professional setting. So the sound impressions are based on my limited usage and whether or not they fill my needs.)


(All listening impressions were done with the JVC Spiral Dot tips.)

Bass: The bass of the Empire Ears ESR isn't like any bass I have heard on any other EE IEM I have reviewed; in fact, there isn't another IEM that I have reviewed that has bass like the ESR. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Definitely a good thing! The ESR has an authoritative presence in the bass that is dominate and controlled. The reaches are far and wide, the depth and layering is jaw dropping and the whole time you feel on the edge but not even close to going over. The details are all present and resolved with impeccable effectiveness. You will not miss a single moment. The speed and accuracy is spot on. There is an impacting power and percussive slam that lets you feel the moment and the enjoyment brings huge grins and giggles with it. But yet as crazy as this will sound, these aren't a basshead IEM, they are an analytical, critical listening IEM. The insane amount of detail, resolution, impact, slam and extension make the ESR bass the best I have heard in an IEM.

Mids: On other Empire Ears IEM that I have reviewed, the mids have been, more often than not, a disappointment, but this is not the case with the ESR. There is a little warmth about the ESR mids that sound so close to natural and realistic. The amount of air and space is spectacular. Everything is even and cohesive; there is a balance that not many IEM can match. The mids put you right there with the action and allow you to dissect each instrument and vocalist; critiquing each breath, strum, touch, tap and movement with ease. The ESR turns over each detail and places it on display with precision and accuracy. There is so much information and it is all resolved flawlessly. The ESR is never fatiguing or intense unless the track includes it. The notes have realistic body and weight and they are full and natural. The only minor gripe is that they have a slight BA metallic timbre but it is very subtle.

Treble: The Empire Ears ESR treble is perfection to my ears. There is crispness, airiness, sparkle, energy and control; the sensation of realism is incredible. The lower treble is controlled intensity, borderline too much but never crossing the line. The details whizz in from all over with precision and accuracy. The definition and refinement of the details is impeccable. The attack and decay is realistic. There is a small gripe and it's that there could be a smidge more air in the upper reaches.

Soundstage/Imaging: The EE ESR stage is deep and wide. When it comes to soundstages, you can get too wide, too deep and they lose the naturalism; the ESR has the proper balance. Everything sounds realistically placed and spaced. You can track movements and place seating arrangements without much effort because the ESR is doing what it is supposed to. Nothing feels awkward or misplaced, you know what you are seeing on stage is what you are hearing in your ear. The ESR stage is one of the most realistic that I have heard in an IEM. The ESR places you on the front row, center stage looking in and around.

Details/Resolution: The Empire Ears ESR is the most detailed and resolving IEM I own. The revealing nature of the ESR does come with a cost though, poorly recorded tracks. If you want to sort your music library by the good, the bad and the ugly recordings then the ESR is the IEM for you.


You may be surprised how many of your prized recordings aren't mastered so well after listening with the Empire Ears ESR. There is no detail left behind and every one of them is presented in it's best form. One other thing of note, is the crossfeed of the ESR, wow it is crazy good. When something is on the right side, the left side has a subtle amount audible or vice versa, Crossfeed is often overlooked in reviews, and sadly in a lot of IEM, but the ESR is fantastic with it.

Tone/Timbre: Now for my one minor gripe, BA timbre. The Empire Ears ESR is the best all BA IEM I have heard and own. The tone of vocals and instruments is spectacular and natural. The timbre does have a slight metallic edge to it, but it is so minuscule that it really isn't worthy of discussion.


ADV M5-12D: 12BA versus 3BA, well the winner should be obvious, more is better. Not so fast! There is a lot to like about both and there are a lot of similarities and a couple of differences. The M5-12D has a larger stage overall; more width, depth and layering, but the ESR is more pin point accurate. Tone and timbre is very similar and extremely hard to differentiate but the edge goes to the ESR. The ESR has a bit more note weight and that adds a touch of realism that the M5-12D lacks. Detail retrieval is crazy good on both and the real difference is the resolution which the ESR has a slight advantage, the M5-12D can be a bit splashy at times. In the smallest of small ways the ESR edges out the M5-12D.
M5-12D Review:

Meze Rai Penta: Two totally different sound signatures on display. The Rai Penta is a fun and engaging listen and the ESR is the analytical workhorse. The ESR has the upper hand with detail retrieval, resolution, note weight and clarity. The Rai Penta is close and competitive with tone and timbre and soundstage depth and layering. These two complement each other very well and I love having both in my IEM selection.
Rai Penta Review:

Drop Empire Ears Zeus: Siblings with a multitude of differences and a few similarities. The Zeus has 14 BA per side and the ESR has 3 BA. The Zeus is more mid forward, has slightly more BA timbre, has a thinner presentation and a bit more treble brightness that can cause fatigue. ESR edges out the Zeus in a very small way with detail retrieval and resolution. The Zeus has a tad wider and deeper soundstage and they are too close to call in imaging accuracy. I really like the Zeus but the ESR is better in the areas that matter the most, technicalities.
Drop Empire Ears Zeus Review:


Sony NW-WM1a: I've got to admit that this is an instant classic pairing. If you use an IEM and DAP at the office or on a plane or train then this is a pairing to consider. If you are looking for an IEM and DAP to use in a more active, portable setting then I would pass this over. This is a pairing made in heaven for my ears. There is a natural and realistic portrayal of vocals and instruments. The soundstage has realistic width, depth and layering. There is a satisfying thump in the bass and a note weight that hits home with truth and clarity. The treble is crisp and energetic with a life likeness that only gets fatiguing when the song is fatiguing. This is a sound that I wish everyone could experience.

NextDrive Spectra X: Okay so you don't want to tote around a bulky $1000 DAP, here is a great alternative. The Spectra X adds in a touch of warmth and lushness to the ESR. You still get all the natural and realistic vocals and instruments with that amazing soundstage and bass power. There is a little less energy and air to the uppers and the soundstage isn't as deep and wide. But I still like this for those moments when my Sony isn't available or logical.

Mytek Liberty DAC: I don't use IEM too often on a desktop setup but some seem more fit for the desk then portable, the Empire Ears ESR is one of those IEM. The ESR and Liberty DAC are a fantastic pairing. I do use the iFi Audio IEMatch as the ESR emits a slight hiss. There is an authority to the sound but not in a fatiguing way. Power in the bass that is controlled, mids are clean and accurate and the highs are energetic but controlled. There isn't any overreach from the Mytek, the ESR sounds true and real. There is a natural aura to the instruments and vocals. The soundstage imaging, depth and layering sounds believable. This is a great pairing that I truly enjoy and highly recommend.

Allen & Heath QU-24: The ESR is in its natural habitat on the QU-24. I used the ESR paired with the Allen & Heath QU-24 on several Sunday services at my church. It was fantastic and gave me all the details and accuracy that I was needing. The tone and timbre is spot on and sounds identical to what I was hearing when I took them out of my ears. The crazy amount of details that I could hear and place accurately. The ability to tell if one microphone gain was too high or too low and so much more. I highly recommend the Empire Ears ESR for monitoring and mixing purposes.

Conclusion: Hands down the best IEM I have purchased and my go to reference IEM. The Empire Ears ESR is a musical, analytical, neutral reference IEM that I highly recommend, if you can find one for purchase. I absolutely love the EE ESR, am I bias, yeah a little. I wouldn't recommend an IEM unless I would use it myself after reviewing and the ESR isn't going anywhere but back in my ears.

Gear used/compared:

ADV M5-12D; https://www.adv-sound.com/collections/in-ear-monitors/products/m5-12d-universal

Meze Rai Penta: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-penta

Drop Empire Ears Zeus: https://drop.com/buy/massdrop-x-empire-ears-zeus-universal-iems

Mytek Liberty DAC: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/

Sony NW-WM1a: https://electronics.sony.com/audio/audio-components/hi-res-audio/p/nwwm1a

Nextrdrive Spectra X: https://www.nextdrive-spectra.io/

Allen and Heath QU-24: https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/qu-24/

YouTube reviews: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/B4LG7Kqp_7f/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs

DBS Tech Talk research and review process:

Audio Terms and Definitions: https://www.stereophile.com/reference/50/index.html

Recommended Gear:
Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean
Hifiman Ananda: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/290
Sennheiser HD600: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/best-audio-headphones-high-end-stereo-hifi-hd-600
Sennheiser HD660s: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/hd-660-s
Meze 99 Classic: https://mezeaudio.com/collections/all/products/meze-99-classics-walnut-gold-wood-headphones
MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version) https://danclarkaudio.com/
(similar to:) https://drop.com/buy/drop-mrspeakers-ether-cx-closed-headphones
Meze Rai Penta: https://mezeaudio.com/collections/all/products/rai-penta
Meze Rai Solo: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-solo
ADV. M5-12D: https://www.adv-sound.com/collections/pro-audio/products/m5-12d-universal
Tin Hifi T3: https://www.linsoul.com/collections/tin-hifi/products/tinhifi-t3
Tin Hifi T2+: https://www.linsoul.com/collections/tin-hifi/products/tinhifi-t2-plus
Tin Hfi T5: https://www.linsoul.com/products/tin-hifi-t5
Moondrop SSR: https://www.moondroplab.com/ssr
Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 788: https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=24459
Mytek Liberty: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/
Soekris DAC1421: https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line/dac-1421
Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#
Massdrop THX AAA 789:
Grace Design SDAC-B: https://drop.com/buy/drop-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced
Geshelli Labs Enog 2 Pro: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/enog2-pro-dac-metal-case
Geshelli Labs J2: https://geshelli.com/jnog
Geshelli Labs Archel 2: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/produ...tal-case-b5ca9a41-69ed-4786-98b2-18f72ae911bf
Geshelli Labs Erish: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/erish-balanced

Music recommendations:
https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/5bbf80ce-33f3-4222-a1fc-6539a95415d6 (in order of playlist)
Tingvall Trio “Beat” - piano tonality
Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - multiple layer soundstage
Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - female vocal tone
Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - male vocal tone
Eric Clapton “Change the World” - soundstage, layering and placement
Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - acoustic instrument timbre
Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - acoustic instrument timbre
Pain of Salvation “Stress” - percussion balance
Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - orchestral dynamics
Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - sibilance check
Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - shouty upper mids
Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - imaging
Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - sub bass extension
Marcus Miller “No Limit” - bass control
Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- bass check
Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- orchestra and bass dynamics
Hans Zimmer :2049” - sub bass extension
Cher: Believe - sibilance
Stanley Clarke - Passenger 57 main title - percussion, bass, separation and placement
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - The Pine of the Appian Way - soundstage, imaging and separation
Houston Person - You are my Sunshine - tone and timbre
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500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Balanced, non-fatiguing sound
Cons: Shallow fit
Female vocals attenuated
Needs a good quality cable to shine

I acquired these from a fellow headfier after being captured by their sound at the recent London Canjam.
They came with a single-ended Ares II cable which I sent back to Effect Audio in Singapore to be upgraded to a 4.4mm balanced 8W. I had bought a second hand 2.5mm balanced Ares II 4W just before the upgrade offer was released so will also be comparing the 4W to the 8W.

iBasso DX228 (Mango OS, High gain, Apodizing filter), Fiio 4.4mm-2.5mm adapter. All hardware, IEMs and cabling is my own.

3 balanced armatures with a custom 4-way crossover.
Frequency response: 10Hz - 40kHz.
UPOCC 26AWG 2-pin Effect Audio Ares II cable available in single ended and balanced terminations.

Design and Fit:
A rather bland and uninspiring form factor. The acrylic universal shell is a little thicker in the midsection compared to my iBasso IT04s. The resultant shallow depression straddling the helical crus means that they protrude a little more and feel less secure in my ears. The shorter nozzle also contributes to this feeling of relatively shallow insertion. I used the supplied bi-flange silicone tips.

Playlist: A mixture of 16/24 bit FLAC and DSD256, ripped from CD via JRiver Media Centre.

Level 42 – Children Say (acoustic version)
Hot Chip – Hungry Child
Daft Punk – Voyager
Goldfrapp – Anymore
Boards of Canada - roygbiv
Robyn – Dancing On My Own
Anden – Walls (extended mix)
Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
Level 42 – Dream Crazy
Bjork – It’s In Our Hands
Jo Hisaishi – The Sixth Station
Imagination – In The Heat Of The Night


Lows: The midbass is mellow but a little dry. Still articulate though. On Hungry Child I notice that the subbass does not bleed into the mid bass or mids leaving the vocals and keyboards clear. On Sledgehammer the fretless bass loses some texture and timbre. I would say a good example of BA bass overall but lacking a little attack.

Mids: Overall smooth delivery of horns, keyboards and guitars. Full male vocals and brass. The piano and strings on The Sixth Station are particularly rich. Unfortunately female vocals are sweetened and ever so slightly thin. Not what you want from Bjork or Goldfrapp!

Highs: Textured and crisp transients but occasionally sweetened. Not particularly energetic or “fun”, though.

The soundstage is moderate in width and depth but lacks that “out of head” feeling or presence from other monitors (e.g. IT04).

My notes from listening to the 8W all have the same statements: “increased definition and separation”, “wider soundstage”, “increased channel steering”, “better grip on lower frequencies” but also “female vocals still a little sweetened”.

Would I buy the 8W over the 4W? Absolutely. If I already had the 4W? Probably, as I am always chasing that ever elusive magical sound shower. I'll probably upgrade the 4W into something else when the opportunity presents itself.

Summary: The ESR sound is balanced with no part of the tonal spectrum emphasised over another. A little warm and dry but non-fatiguing to listen to.

It would be interesting to compare the copper Ares II to a SPC or hybrid cable as I have a feeling that these might cool the sound and open up the soundstage a little more. Stay tuned for that review…..


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Neutral tonality
Excellent stock cable
Decent accessories
Freedom to customize (termination and universal vs custom)
Cons: Shell may be too large for some
Nozzle is short and there’s no lip to secure the ear tips
Injecting the knowledge obtained from the studio into the development of the Empire Studio Reference (ESR), Empire Ears tuned this in-ear monitor (IEM) uniquely for discerning producers and engineers who need a neutral, uncolored reference IEM.

This review is also posted on Headphonesty. I bought this pair of IEMs at full retail price. This is not a sponsored post, but an honest review written from a consumer’s point of view. Dollar to performance ratio is included below.

Gathering a team of passionate engineers, musicians, and audiophiles, Empire Ears desires to design the finest IEMs in the world. With over 30 years of experience in this industry, Empire Ears successfully realized its ambitions with the release of the award-winning Zeus in 2015. The Legend X soon took over the Zeus’s legacy and it continues to prove Empire Ears’s quality in the industry.

"As the leader in our industry we are committed to never give up in our search for the extraordinary. Immersive sound signatures, cutting-edge design, and unrivaled build quality are the hallmarks of our IEM systems." - Empire Ears

Leveraging the experience gained in building the well-received Spartan, ESR is designed to present a more refined neutrality across the frequency spectrum. Adding pleasant warmth and greater body to the sound, it yields a more exciting midrange and ultimately generates greater resolution.

With this implementation, the ESR stands out for its well-balanced sound. It is one of the most balanced IEMs in Empire Ears's lineup. The ESR’s price to performance ratio creates a serious challenge to other IEM manufacturers. We will further discuss this in this review.
- Empire Ears ESR -

I really like the packaging of Empire Ears: grand, elegant, while minimalistic. When you purchase any IEM from Empire Ears, the first thing that will catch your attention is the huge logo on the black box.
- A silver Empire Ears Logo will catch your attention immediately -

Opening the black box, you will find these accessories included:
  • Aegis Case
  • Carrying pouch for Aegis Case
  • Carrying pouch for ESR
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Final Audio Type E ear tips (XS, S, M, L, XL)
  • Cleaning tool
- Cleaning cloth, quick start guide, and two pouches in the box. -

- The Aegis Case. -

Opening the Aegis case, you find the ESR lying comfortably with the Effect Audio Ares II cable pre-installed. Besides the IEM, the additional ear tips and cleaning tool are also stored in the case.
- Final Audio Type E ear tips and cleaning tool. -

ESR_With Cable.jpg
- ESR with pre-installed Effect Audio Ares II cable -

  • 3 proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers
  • 1 low, 1 mid, 1 high
  • 4-way synX crossover network
  • Resonance Mitigation Technology (A.R.C)
  • Impedance: 19.3 ohms @ 1kHz
  • Frequency response: 10 Hz - 40kHz
  • Sensitivity 112dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • UPOCC 26AWG handcrafted cable by Effect Audio
Build, Fit and Isolation
Empire Ears utilizes acrylic shell for most of its universal line-up. ESR has the same acrylic shell. The logo on the shell varies according to the models. The shell is relatively big when compared to other models such as the Jomo Audio Haka and Symphonium Audio Aurora that I recently reviewed.

However, the relatively large IEMs sit well in my ear with the correct choice of ear tips. I am using the Final Audio Type E ear tips provided in the box. I like these ear tips for their good isolation.
ESR_Front Look.jpg
- Gold Empire Ears logo on black acrylic shell -

There are 3 bores on the nozzle. The nozzle is relatively big and slightly shorter compared to other IEMs on the market. This might cause some issues in finding a good ear tip for the universal model for some users. I am lucky because the Type E ear tips fit me well.
- 3 bores found on the nozzle of ESR -

Empire Ears ESR utilizes a 0.78mm non-recessed 2 pin connector. This is a common market standard, so a lot of third party cables can be found to replace or upgrade the original cable.
- 0.78mm non-recessed 2-pin connector found on top of the shell -

The cable provided in the box is the Effect Audio Ares II: a 26AWG Ultra Purity Ohno Continuous Cast (UPOCC) copper cable. This is an excellent cable with rigid braiding and a strong right-angled 3.5mm jack. When ordering this IEM, I was given the freedom to choose the termination: 2.5mm, 3.5mm, or 4.4mm. I chose 3.5mm so I can pair it with most of my amplifiers and digital audio players (DAPs).
- Effect Audio Ares II -

- A rigid right-angled 3.5mm jack -

ESR_2 pin.jpg
- 2 pin connector with heat-shrinked ear guides -

ESR_Y split.jpg
- Black Y-split with Effect Audio and Empire Ears logo -

For this review, I paired ESR with the Sony NW-WM1A, one of my favourite DAPs, and I used the unbalanced cable. For ear tips, I used the Final Audio Type E ear tips which are included in the package.
- Empire Ears ESR with Sony NW-WM1A -

Based on the ESR’s name itself, I suspected the presentation would be rather flat and dull before even listening to this IEM. Most of the studio reference IEMs exhibit this kind of sound signature in my experience.

Wrong! So very wrong. I “wowed” instantly when I first listened to this IEM. It is lively and full of emotions.

The overall sound signature can be considered neutral. I read some reviews while I listened to this IEM and noted that some reviewers do not consider it to be a neutral IEM. Here I wish to clarify what neutral means to me. Normally I call an IEM neutral when there is no emphasis or deficit at any region in the frequency spectrum. I think ESR did very well here. I call this a neutral IEM.

The response is very fast and accurate. This speed and accuracy is essential for musicians, artists, and engineers when producing music. The soundstage is wide and deep. I cannot find an IEM that has a better soundstage than Empire Ears’s IEMs. This is one of the unique selling points of Empire Ears.

Details are well-separated and the layering of instruments is presented decently. I do not find any congestion when listening to any of the review tracks. I can submerge myself in the sea of musicality when listening to ESR. It is an enjoyable reference IEM.
- Another close look at Empire Ears ESR -

Deep, very deep. The depth of the soundstage is created mostly by the deep extension of the bass. The bass response is very fast and I appreciate fast bass (short decay duration). Slow bass (bass that decays slowly) can give a track more emotion and may be more gentle on your eardrums, but slow bass bleeding into the mids is a big taboo.

The body is full and well controlled. The amount of bass does not affect the rest of the frequency spectrum. This IEM is precisely and accurately tuned by Empire Ears!

The sub-bass rumble is when the ESR begins to shine. I am not a bass head but I really appreciate good quality lows. I fell in love with the sub-bass when I first listened to this IEM.

The lows response is very different when compared to the X series from Empire Ears.

If you are a fan of the X series (Bravado, Legend X, etc), you might need to audition this before making an impulsive purchase.

X series has a softer approach in the bass regions, like a wave hitting the beach, while the ESR’s bass is like a punch hitting a sandbag. This kind of solid impact is the best description of the ESR’s bass. Nonetheless, it is very accurate and the presence is significant!
- Empire Ears ESR -

If you read my previous reviews, you will understand how much I appreciate good mids. I am a Mandopop and Cantopop lover. Good vocals are essential for me. What does“good mids” mean to me? The texture needs to be thick enough. What do I mean?

Texture is how the vocals and other mid frequency instruments are combined in a composition, thus determining the overall presentation of the mids in a piece.

This is very tricky because the vocals become too honky when the texture is too thick. When the vocals are too thin, they lose the spotlight. The stage will be taken over by other frequency regions.

The ESR has a good grasp on texture. The mids are rich, thick, and juicy. It has sufficient air and space in the mids to make the vocalists sound lively. When I am listening to Teresa Teng, she sounds sweet and silky smooth.

I always use Teng’s tracks as a reference when writing my impressions on mids for an IEM. Her vocals are special: you need a good amount of air to make them lively and the body needs to be sufficiently thick at the same time.

It is tricky, but I am glad that ESR got it right!

Positioning is tricky for the mids as well. Normally I prefer the vocalists to be positioned in the center of the stage, taking the spotlight, but sometimes it can become extreme. Overly forward vocals are a no-no for me because they become shouty, like the vocalist shouting at you without any musical instruments playing.

As mentioned earlier, the ESR is a relatively neutral IEM. There is no bias at any region of the frequency spectrum. The mids are positioned well in the middle and I appreciate this presentation. I get what I like in this IEM in both the lows and the mids.
- Empire Ears ESR -

The highs are one of the key factors determining how long you can listen. If the IEM has peaks in the highs or is too energetic, it will cause fatigue during long listening sessions. ESR does not belong in the listening fatigue category.

Personally I have a good tolerance for highs. I seldom find an IEM to be too bright. I like the highs on the ESR. They are airy and spacious. If lows are a punch landing on a sandbag, the highs are a gentle breeze bringing you comfort.

When the punchy lows meet with the meaty mids and breezy highs - simply amazing.

The extension and decay on the highs is well-controlled. A lot of IEM manufacturers neglect the treble, causing the highs to extend and decay badly. What does poor treble extension or decay sound like? It sounds exactly like distortion. The silky highs break and form unbearable distortion at high frequency. It can be piercing sometimes, ruining the overall experience.

All these mentioned issues were addressed in designing the ESR. I salute the professionalism and mindfulness of the team who crafted the ESR.
- Another look at the ESR-WM1A pairing -

The Empire Ears ESR is a great choice not only those who are working in a studio; it also fits well for those who value neutrality in their IEMs. The amount of accessories, especially the Ares II from Effect Audio, made the ESR package more attractive. The ESR is fully built by the Empire Ears team in the USA to maintain the high quality.

The universal ESR retails for USD899. It can be purchased at most of the major audio retailers such as ConnectIT by Jade Gift Shop (Singapore) or directly from Empire Ears. For those who wish to get a custom version, the price starts at USD999 and the final price will depend on the customization of the artwork.

Empire Ears managed to challenge the common stereotype of studio reference IEMs. They are no longer dull and lifeless. The ESR is proof to the community that studio reference IEMs can sound fun and engaging!

Well done, Empire Ears!


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Very efficient (you could probably drive them to deafening levels with some high school science project lemon batteries)
Excellent detail
Wide stereo field (though not as tall or deep).
Rich, engaging sound
Cons: V-shaped FR not suitable for many audio engineers (but it will be appealing to many audiophiles).
Overall Ratings

for the recording professional — 3.2/5.0
for the audio enthusiast — 4.3/5.0

  1. I’m not a professional reviewer; in fact this is my very first head-fi review. (Please be gentle.) I was not paid anything for this. As a part of the ESR/Bravado tour, I had to pay shipping to the next head-fi’er.
  2. All impressions were made using SpinFit tips and an SP1000M (single-ended) playing lossless files.
  3. YMWV — Your Mileage WILL vary; get used to it.
  4. Objects in this review may be closer than they appear.
  5. There has been no collusion in this review.
  6. No animals were injured in the making this review.
  7. Intended for use under adult supervision.
  8. Opinions stated here are solely the author’s and do not represent this station nor its corporate overlords.

The searching for reference monitors is akin to hunting for a mono-horned horse that is explosively bloated with prismatic methane*.

Consider this from two perspectives: manufacturers and consumers.

I already own 2 iems that their manufacturers refer to as reference: UERR and ER4SR. Since these are both “reference”, you’d think they would sound almost identical. No, they don’t (but you probably already knew that). Same is true for “reference” speakers. Even manufacturers do not agree on what is “reference” sound.

From an individual side of things.
  • We all hear differently. We all lose sensitivity to high frequencies as we age, starting in our twenties.
  • Our individual frequency response varies with volume (Fletcher-Munson et al.). An ideal FR for listening at 65 dB would be wrong if it listened to at 95 dB.
  • Add in to this “brain-burn”. Yes, I believe in this phenomena. Each of our other senses is highly adaptive. Why would hearing be different? (btw, I also believe in equipment burn-in, having spent several years for professional speaker manufacturers.)

*unicorn powered by rainbows.

Sorry, I don’t do audio porn. You’ll just have to take your putrid proclivities elsewhere.

Overall Impressions

Since the monitors are named ESR (Empire-ears Studio Reference), I first approached these iems from the standpoint of a recording engineer (which I was for several years). From this perspective, I found the frequency response to be inadequately uneven. There is just too much bass and treble at louder volumes. Once I cranked the volume down to low levels, the tonal balance smoothed out. But at those volumes, it was difficult to catch all the details needed to make a firm judgement on recording quality.

Still, the ESRs have many redeeming qualities that engineers require. The stereo field is quite wide, but neither too tall nor too deep (front/back). Some iems have a very tall signature, but it shrinks at the ends. This always sounds very artificial to me. The ESR isn’t the tallest, but its height is maintained across the full width. Same with the depth. The stereo field sounds just about perfect to me.

The ESR also boasts excellent dynamics and details. You can easily hear the exact nature of each instrument’s individual reverberation field through the very final decay.

However, the “v” shaped FR curve is a killer for me, from an engineer’s perspective.


Once I took off my engineer’s hat, they became much more enjoyable! There is a lot of “fun” in these iems. They sound pretty much wonderful with most music genres. The ESR does great extension at both ends. Bass is very solid. I found the treble to be smooth and without any added sibilance.

Another nice thing about the ESRs is that they sound wonderful at low volumes. You can listen to them all day long without risking any hearing loss and still fully enjoy your music.

Of course, you really crank them up (but don’t try this at home, kids!). It is very easy to get lost in the music with them.

Would I buy them for use primary as a studio “reference”? No
Would I buy them for simply listening to music? Yes. The ESRs is a top contender if you are considering a quality iem in their price range.


New Head-Fier
Pros: Techicality
- imaging
- resolution
- layering
Bass quality and quantity
Cons: Sharp treble
slightly recessed mids (personal taste)
Disclaimer: Empire Ears provided both the ESR and the Bravado with no charge for a period of 10 days as part of their Bravado and ESR tour in exchange for my honest review on one of the models – be it good or ill.


I have been following Empire ears ever since they released their Olympus line-up. In my never-ending search for that one perfect mids/vocals centric IEM, the Athena and the Zeus caught my attention. Due to their pricing, I have kind of looked away from those two models until I finally got a chance to demo them at Canjam RMAF and, RIP to my wallet, I pulled the trigger on the Zeus XIV non-ADEL. Where was just something in the sound that, at the moment I first heard it, eludes Empire Ears house sound and that uniqueness (highly coherent clarity-led sound) which I didn’t hear from other IEMs at the show. I will elaborate more about this later in the review since this is supposed to be an introduction. Anyway, I bought the Zeus, but I can’t justify to use it as my daily driver due to the price. My though was, and still is, ‘it would be nice if Empire makes something with similar house sound prices it in the mid-tier market. From that point on, I have been eagerly looking forward to trying their new X and EP line-ups. Unfortunately, there is no dealers or places where I can try their products in my area. So, when Devon announced the Bravado and ESR tour, I, without any hesitation, signed up and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the participants despite the fact that I have never published, let alone written, a review before. Thank you Devon!

I will almost fully skip the Design/Fit section of the review because these are plain black universals. The reason I wrote ‘almost’ is because I will mention here that despite being relatively thick – both models protrude out from the ear – they fit very securely and isolation is surprisingly great. By great, I mean they surpassed a certain CIEM I own in terms of blocking outside noise as I use all of my IEMs mostly outside - i.e. on the bus or at work. In addition, their fit is very comfortable with the E-type final audio tips provided along with the demo units – not too deep nor too shallow. Both models come with typical Empire specs – partially recessed 2-pin connector with Effect audio Ares Ii with 2.5 mm balanced termination.


The ESR, and all of my IEMs at that, is driven by iphone X. Portability at its best. Of the two models, I chose the ESR because I gave it more ear time and I can, IMHO, describe the sound in more detail compared to the Bravado. I will try to be as objective as possible though that is nearly (or totally) impossible as taste and background (the reference set by listening to certain IEMs) definitely do come into play when judging an IEM.

Bass: My biggest surprise when I first played music through the ESR is definitely the bass. The description of Empire’s website , “the Empire Studio Reference (ESR) was tuned specifically for discerning producers and engineers that require a non-colored, linear in-ear monitor for reference use”, would suggest that the ESR it neutral. By ‘neutral’ I often imagine that the bass would be somewhat anemic, and for that, I would be wrong. To me, the bass of the ESR is definitely north of neutral and by a significant margin. It is NOT that I know what neutral bass sounds like (as I have never heard stuff like Etymotic er4sr or the UERR/UERM), but I will justify this statement later when I compare the ESR to a couple of IEMs I own. Extension down at the sub-bass region is finely executed – there is enough rumble to ‘feel’ without really having to pay attention and search for it. However, sub-bass is NOT too present to the point that it smears out the resolution. As I said before, I could ‘feel’ it but that’s about it – the subs are not overwhelming my any means. Mid-bass, however, is boosted and is positioned in the front of the stage. For this reason, I would even go and describe the ESR as a ‘fun-sounding’ IEM. The first second I put on the ESR, I was asking myself if I put on the Bravado my mistake – the timbre is still BA but of high quality (controlled and resolving). The decay is not typical BA-quick although it is still not as ‘natural/smooth’ as DD bass. The mid and upper bass do not bleed into the mids despite the forward placement.

Mids: Now, how do I describe the mids of the ESR? Lower mids? Checked. Upper mids? Checked. Clarity? Checked. Warmth? Checked. This is the mids that don’t really lack elements that make up good midrange, if that makes any sense. Vocals are bodied and display power – the sheer size of vocals is not big, but they are sufficiently dense. Although the positioning of vocals is clearly behind instruments (midrange instrumnets, bass and treble), they are not buried in the mix thanks to presence of high mids which adds the sense of clarity to vocals. However, due to the highly boosted treble, as I will mention in detail later, vocals, both male and female, suffer sibilance from ‘sssssss’ and ‘sshhhhh’ where these sounds will just jump right at you. Vocals, although clear and present, are not very emotional due to their positioning – The ESR lacks the sense of intimacy in the vocal range and the lower midrange is not forward enough to give the ‘throaty’ feels to male vocals. Also, the density of vocals is very dependent on the recording, where I perceived some vocals as warm and some (mostly vocals in EDM tracks) as thin sounding.

Highs: PIERCINGLY SHARP. If there is one area that prevents me from picking up the ESR as the driver for the day, it would be the treble region. Lower to mid-treble is hugely emphasized – cymbals are bodies and brought in front of stage – in front of the bass. Right. In. Your. Face. Personally, with well recorded tracks, this brings energy and ‘liveliness’ to the music for short listens, completing that fun ‘V-shape’ profile. However, after a while (minutes), this could easily get fatiguing and I would have to rest my ears every now and then. Timbre here is good; trebles don't sound artificial or metallic. I just wish the quantity is significantly smaller.

Technical Ability: One thing that jumps to mind when listening to the ESR is how well it images the stage. Thanks to the very black background, it is very easy to pinpoint the location of each notes on the stage. Bass and mids are also very nicely separated due to minimal bleeding, and separation within each frequency range, especially in the mids, are executed very well – there is space between notes so each one is easily picked out. Treble, despite its prominence in the presentation, does not really contribute to the excellence in imaging. It clarifies the presentation, no doubt; However, the body and fuzziness at the edge of treble notes result in an ‘alright’ imaging ability in the treble region. Resolution, in general, is high – I would say the sheer resolution does step on the realm of TOTL, even though I would not say it’s on the top of the summit (comparisons to follow). Width of the stage is also one of the aspect that deserves praise, although height and depth are not far behind either.

Select (Available) Comparisons:

Empire Ears Zeus XIV: Both the ESR and the Zeus share a similar house sound – slightly bright timbre with exceptional clarity. How they present music, however, differ; the Zeus has vocals-centric signature where the vocal is placed in front of everything while the ESR focuses more on its bass and treble. Bass extension goes to the ESR where sub-bass is more present. Mid- and upper-bass are also more present and engaging on the ESR. Lower region of the Zeus is by no means anemic, but its quantity suggests that it’s there to sufficiently do the job and complete the signature. Texture wise, they are very similar in that the decay is not too fast and there is a slight hint of DD bass smoothness. Going up the frequency range, the mids differ in how they present vocals relative to instruments. The ESR has the vocal placed considerably behind instruments while the vocals of the Zeus is in front of everything. Both construct average size vocals. Nonetheless, the density of Zeus’ vocals is much greater in a sense that you can feel more ‘power’ and ‘emotion’ from the singer, especially male, in comparison to the ESR. The ESR, though there is warmth imbued in the vocal range, does not possess the authority the Zeus does. Lower mid in warmer on the ESR and is more detailed (microdetails) on the Zeus. Also, as mention earlier, the ESR display sibilance at the upper edge of vocals notes. The Zeus has the same characteristic but to a much lesser degree – the resulting timbre is slightly more organic and ‘correct’. The highs of the Zeus is behind the midrange. In contrary, the ESR places the highs in front of the mids and slightly in front of the bass. I would describe the texture of the Zeus’ treble as having a similar overall signature to the ESR WITHOUT the sibilance and sharpness. In addition, the resolution of the treble is better on the Zeus – in the audiovisual sense, I can easily visualize the exact location of each treble note while the picture is kind of fuzzy at the note edge with the ESR. Technicality-wise, overall imaging is pinpoint for both models and overall resolution still goes to the Zeus although not by much. Separation is also similar – both models add enough space between instruments that they can be easily distinguished but not too much where the stage does not feel ‘hollow’. The ESR construct a wider stage but the Zeus present the stage in more 3D manner. Taking the price difference into consideration, ESR exceeds my expectation in terms of technicality and presents a great value for the money.

Campfire Andromeda: Now, this is more of a ‘fair flight’ since both models retail at similar price point. I will say this right from the start – technicality-wise, the ESR wins hands down. Resolution, separation, layering and imaging go to the ESR. Extension on both ends is similar for both models. However, there are a couple aspects that make me favor the Andromeda as my daily driver. Starting from the bass, the Andromeda has bass that very ‘BA’ – fast decay, tight, controlled and sub-bass-focused. On the other hand, the bass of the ESR is more DD-like in a sense that there is considerably more mid-bass and transition between notes is more seemless – more ‘liquidy’. Moving up to the midrange, the Andromeda presents a more forward, more bodied instruments and more emotional vocals. The mids are ‘thicker’ on the Andromeda – lower and upper mids are more in line where the upper mid of the ESR is palces in front of the lower mid. There is more ‘crunch’ in vocals of the Andromeda while the vocals of the ESR is smoother in the lower octave I sore sibilant in the upper octave. This is where I much prefer the Andromeda over the ESR; for me, the timbre of the Andromeda’s mids sound more ‘correct’ in a sense that it’s not overly smooth nor overly bright yet there is enough power and details to convey the emotions through vocals (although the mid-head inside me would have liked it to be JUST slightly more forward). There is warmth in the vocals of the ESR but perhaps a little too much in the lower mid region. There is brightness in the vocals of the ESR but perhaps a little too much in the upper region. These factors cause the vocals of the ESR to be, to my ears, a little unbalanced, laid back, and not as powerful in comparison the Andromeda. Moving up the frequency range, the Andromeda takes the cake. Although the Andromeda is slight bright, it is NEVER fatiguing. The highs cut through the mix with authority and great airiness, however, they don’t steal the show not do they draw too much attention. On the contrary, treble is the first thing I noticed when I first plugged the ESR into my ears – there is this HUGE peak in the lower-mid treble region that totally dominates the stage. As I mentioned earlier, this peak is the reason I can’t do long listening session with the ESR. Overall, as a daily driver, I much prefer the Andromeda over the ESR due to the overall presentation and coherence. Did I mention that the Andromeda is one of, if most the most, coherent IEM I’ve ever listened to? I would describe the presentation of the Andromeda as W-shape while the ESR exhibits more of a V-shape response.


I can’t say that the ESR does its job as a reference monitor as I have not listened to anything that is truly reference nor have I been in the actual studio. However, the ESR stands out in terms of technicality – be it imaging, resolution, clarity and layering. Do I recommend the ESR? I can’t say I recommend it wholeheartedly as I find it too sharp for personal listening. However, everybody hears things differently. Some people might be sensitive to different peaks than others. For example, AAW W900 maybe fatiguing in the treble region to some people but I find it extended, smooth and linear. Thus, I would suggest trying it out rather than going in blind. If treble is no trouble, what Empire Ears achieve on the ESR would be really impressive; it would be hard to find another monitor that performs near TOTL level at this price point.
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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent and very realistic technical sound, quite neutral, abundant accessories.
Cons: Terrible fit for small ears and Very peaky treble.
This review is a little late. I was busy with a few other items.

Anyway. Here it is.

Introduction: I am an avid music listener. Whether I'm at home or on the go, I usually use IEMs that can please my auditory senses. I have listened to many IEMs and only a few can accomplish this. Is the ESR an exception? Let's find out, shall we?

Once again. Thank you, Devon, Higgins for selecting me to review the ESR.


Much like the Bravado, the shell is a sturdy and acrylic. The EE symbol on the ESR is silver this time around. What's also great about the ESR is the craftsmanship? Yes, the craftsmanship. It's almost custom-like. Sadly the IEM has a bit too much height and makes wearing the ESR a bit uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. This is also due to the fact that my ears are small. So larger ears will benefit from this.

20181027_040310.jpg 20181027_041010.jpg
Close-ups of the ESR.




Much like the Bravado, the ESR has high noise isolation. It can block out most sounds effortlessly and I find that quite impressive. You won't be disturbed during your commute. Unless if someone taps you. Seriously though. This IEM defies external noise.


Final Audio Type E tips + Alcohol Pads for cleaning Ear tips


Empire Aegis Hard Case



Quick Guide and Soft Pouch Carrying bags + Cleaning Cloth:


Technical Specifications
3 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers

1 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High

4-Way synX Crossover Network

A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology

Impedance: 19.3 ohms @ 1kHz

Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 40kHz

Sensitivity 112dB @ 1kHz, 1mW

UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio

To find out more info on the ESR, click the following link.


Source: Shanling M3S


Lesser quantity than the Bravado. The extension is similar, yet less emphasis in the subterranean area of the bass. The bass emphasizes more on upper sub bass and lower midbass. The approach of this bass is more gentle and controlled than the Bravado. Despite that, the ESR still has great impact and tonality. Also, best of all the ESR has super fast bass. The typical BA response of bass attack and decay.


More forward than the Bravado. This part of the frequency seems drier too. There's an abundance of detail and it shimmers quite a bit. Works well with percussion and guitars and performs slightly better at vocals than the Bravado in terms of detail. Sadly in terms of portrayal of emotion, not as impressive.


Definitely more extended than the Bravado. Also slightly brighter. The details are quite excellent. Yet I feel it's more clinical. So it seems duller to me. Otherwise, the technical performance is on par with one of my own IEMs like the MDP (Massdrop Plus). The only problem is that the treble seems kind of hot. It gets peaky at times. Not in an artificial way, more like a natural and slightly exaggerated way.


Large and in charge. The stage takes on a slightly different approach with a larger dispersal field than the Bravado. The stage also has more accurate spatial cues and positions. Making the ESR seem more realistic in a sense.

Vs. MDP (Massdrop Plus):

Very similar overall Sound Signature. Yet I hear that the MDP is more controlled in terms of treble presence. The detail and layering are slightly better from the ESR. The liveliness is more brilliant from the ESR. The soundstage is smaller and more well rounded on the MDP, in comparison to the Concert Hall Soundstage of the ESR.


While I am extremely impressed with the ESR's technical performance. I feel that the ESR could benefit from a more relaxed, yet energetic demeanor. I also think that the ESR could be smaller, despite it being a Multi BA IEM. Otherwise, the ESR sounds incredible. If I were given a choice to use the ESR for Studio use. This IEM would be perfect.



Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Balanced Sound, solid craftsmanship for a universal, nice cable
Cons: Some slight harshness in the treble
Empire Ears ESR Review

Empire ears is unquestionably one of the top companies in the IEM game right now. I’ve heard their TOTL Legend X and it is a uniquely powerful IEM with a sound signature to match. Jack and Co. spent two years working on developing the dual W9 subs and they are like nothing else I’ve ever heard.

But alas, these musings are not about the LX, but rather one of the company’s more modest offerings: the ESR.

Per EE’s website, the ESR is the company’s “flattest in-ear monitor.” To my ears that seems a fitting description, as all frequencies are presented with more or less the same emphasis.

Here are some notes from my listening:

- Vocals seem ever so slightly pulled back from instruments, to avoid becoming over-emphasized

- The ESR seems to shine at presenting instruments in the mid and lower frequencies; it is capable of presenting pleasant, rich sounding tone and timbre for instruments like pianos and cellos

- The ESR’s have an energetic and engaging sound…if you’re looking for a smooth and laid back signature, you won’t find it here. At times things did get a little harsh to my sensitive ears, but I think exploring different tip options (which I did not have time to do) could mitigate some of this harshness.

- Bass is relatively neutral…again, in line with EE’s goal of a creating flat response. Texture is good; it’s not the fastest or most detailed low-end, but it is a quality low-end that any audiophile not expecting TOTL performance would likely be pleased with.

- One area I feel the ESR can improve on is its staging and imaging abilities. Perhaps my experience with LX just blew any expectations through the roof, but I feel the overall staging of the ESR is a bit flat; it can be tough to accurately pinpoint the depth or true position of a particular instrument in more complex music. That said, overall separation of instruments and details is fairly good.

- The included Effect Audio Ares II cable is highly respected around the HF community, and I think it’s awesome that EE didn’t overlook this detail when considering what cable to include with the ESR.

- Craftsmanship of these universal monitors seems very good. They are unassuming and non-flashy, smooth, and will fit well in most ears (with the right tips) due to the smart contours of the design.

It can be difficult after hearing TOTL gear to fully appreciate mere modest improvements offered by more mid/budget-tier gear. But, to ignore less impressive benefits is unfair to all of the work and research that clearly has gone into producing the ESR (or lots of other non-summit-fi gear…which is most gear!) There are unquestionably appreciable differences over mainstream consumer audio equipment. After all, it’s the journey to the ever-elusive top, and all the stops along the way that is what this hobby is all about. Each piece of gear we experience in our ascent has its own merits, and only helps us to further appreciate what we hear the higher we go.

That said, once one has grown accustomed to the sound of TOTL IEMs (in my case, K10/A18/LX) baseline expectations for all other gear can get pushed mighty high.

But let's be honest...if anyone’s really at fault here, it’s Empire Ears.

The fact is that EE’s own TOTL products are just so damn good. Listening to the LX and ESR back to back is utterly and completely unfair.

The ESR is more than capable of delivering a pleasing and satisfying listening experience in its own way, and is surely steps above any mainstream gear. For this accomplishment, the ESR deserves some credit.

Thanks to Jack, Devon, the rest of the Empire Ears team, and HF for the chance to demo the ESR.
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Tex Irie

Member of the Trade: For Ears Only
Pros: The Width of the sound stage and instrument separation.
The unparalleled comfort during extended listening sessions.
The Musicality
Cons: The tuning seems to have treble peaks that can be expressed as noticeable plosives or slight sibilance on male and female vocals at higher volumes.
I participated in the Empire Ears Bravado|ESR Tour recently. I would especially like to thank Devon Higgins of Empire Ears for assisting and making this review possible. I had no idea what to expect as this brand was completely alien to me. Over the course of my summer vacation; I learned what makes Empire Ears standout among other Universal In Ear Monitors.



DISCLAIMER: I am not an Audiophile. I just enjoy music like comfort food. You won’t find technical measurements or a standardized vernacular that describes something as subjective as sound. No Diana Krall reference tracks or obscure music that most people wouldn’t dream of playing in traffic. I listen to music for relaxation and entertainment. I appreciate the artistry and creative process regardless of genre. I also enjoy headphones, assorted audio equipment, and in ear monitors. So, anything that heightens the enjoyment to my daily soundtrack is worth investigating or spending unreasonable sums of revenue on.

**I don’t get paid or compensated for this unfiltered stream of consciousness. These are the observations of an enthusiast.**

ABOUT ME: A Seasoned Systems Engineer from Parts Unknown currently residing in the North Dallas Boondocks. A family man and mentor to young persons that need guidance related to career paths in Information Technology/ Information Security. I also dabble in the art of Barbecuing occasionally.

My fondest memories of music were listening to vinyl records with my siblings and the harmonic yet jovial sounds of Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie reverberating off the walls of our room. I recall sitting in my Aunt’s home while she played The Commodores Easy like Sunday Morning. I can visualize the restless nights in the 80's with the radio blaring Philip Bailey & Phil Collins She’s an Easy Lover - Sugar Hill Section, New York City Summer of 85……


When I opened these Empire Aegis cases I was impressed by the quality and the look of the Bravado and ESR. The Effect Audio Ares II cables accentuated the aura and premium mystique. Out of total curiosity I broke out all of my IEMs to see how they compared to Empire Ears offerings.


In Ear Monitors:

Campfire Audio Andromeda
Empire Ears Bravado (Courtesy of Empire Ears)
Empire Ears ESR (Courtesy of Empire Ears)
Noble Audio Django
Noble Audio K10 Universal
Westone W60

Sources & Configuration:

LG V30--> Neutron--> Empire Ears ESR W/Effect Audio Ares II 2.5mm cable & Effect Audio 2.5mm Female to 3.5mm Male Adapter

Apple iPhone 6s Plus--> Fiio Music--> Empire Ears ESR W/Effect Audio Ares II 2.5mm cable & Effect Audio 2.5mm Female to 3.5mm Male Adapter

iBasso DX200--> Mango OS Player--> AMP 1--> Empire Ears ESR W/Effect Audio Ares II 2.5mm cable

320 Kbps MP3 files
16 bit/ 44.1 Khz FLAC files
24 bit/ 96 Khz FLAC files

Having 9 days of vacation and 3000 miles of road to traverse, I was giddier than a kid with their favorite box of mind numbingly sweet sugar shocks breakfast cereal.

I immediately got my pouch of Symbio N Hybrid tips and checked out the Bravado first. I understood that all IEMs are incredibly dependent on the source, fit, and seal to achieve the best sound. My excitement was initially tempered when I tried with my LG V30, then I tried my iPhone 6s Plus, ending with the DX200. I concluded the Bravado wasn't quite my cup of tea after 6 hours of continuous critical listening.

It took about 3 days for the ESR to grow on me. I initially noticed how comfortable the Bravado and ESR were. Much like Shure, Westone, and Noble IEMs they felt like they disappear when listening for extended periods of time. I found this comfort to be amazing for the size of Empire Ears IEMs.

I tried the ESR with all my devices but ultimately rocked with the DX200, AMP 1, and ESR combination. I tend to listen to music in a dark room or on the couch with my eyes closed whenever I can. This usually helps me relax and focus on the placement of instruments. However, The ESR's sound stage sounded so wide I wasn't sure what kind of sorcery Empire Ears' Engineers managed to cram in these shells.

Maybe it was the 3 Way Crossover, perhaps it was the Drivers, or possibly the Shell and Effect Audio Ares II cable. All I could hear was the expansive sound stage that felt like it was outside my head space and not between my ears. I was impressed with the punchy and distortion free guttural lows of the bass lines. The instrument separation was stellar. I clearly heard the ride of cymbals and high hats and minor details I've never noticed in music I'm very familiar with. Everything seemed to be rhythmic and musical. Every little detail in music seemed to envelope the senses. The snap in the snares, The Twinkle of the keys, The chords and strings sustaining and decaying, The strumming and fretting of acoustic instruments, The resonance of wind instruments, Echo, Reverb, Vocal panning, and Instrument position were nothing short of mesmerizing.

My sole gripe would be the would be the occasional treble spikes that sound like noticeable plosives or slight sibilance at higher volume levels. That was the only wrinkle I could find in an otherwise impressive product. It completely ruined the Campfire Audio Andromeda for me. I felt the ESR comes off like an Andromeda with 3 drivers. I am legitimately intrigued to hear the upper echelon of Empire Ears offerings like the Legend X, Nemesis, and Phantom Universal models.
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100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Clean balanced coverage of audio spectrum
Supplied with quality cableage
Cons: Cant come up with anything negative
Bravado and ESR review

This is my first review ever. I wanted to try these out and I sincerely appreciate being allowed to be part of the tour for these. So, a big thank you to Empire Ears!

My first pair of semi-serious IEM’s were the Shure e2C’s (which I still have BTW). When I bought the Shure’s I was traveling cross-county by air quite a bit and thinking that the only way to drown out the inside-the-plane noise was either full size headphones with noise control circuitry or a smaller in-the-ear alternative. I DON’T like putting IEM’s in my ears, really. I don’t fly as much as I used to, but, now that the quality has risen so far, IEM’s are now the best and preferred way to get the best fidelity to my 60+ year old ears. I had Westone AC2 CIEM’s made about three years ago and they were a revelation to me about how IEM’s can sound at that time. My current IEM is the Earsonics ES3. I love the sound of these and whatever I throw at them in the way of music; they seem to fit and just sound right to me.

The rigs that I used for the reviews:

Fiio X1 > JDS Labs cMoyBB > IEM

iPhone 7 Plus > Hiby app > AQ Dragonfly Red > IEM

On both setups I only used the stock EA cables that came with the IEM’s.


Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

Beatles – Abbey Road

Sonny Rollins – Newk’s Time

Traffic – Low Spark

Pink Floyd – DSOM

Uncle Tupelo – Still Feel Gone

Donald Fagen – The Nightfly

Bravado Review

I expected the Bravado to outperform the ES3’s and they did. They are definitely brighter and midrange/treble a touch cleaner than the ES3’s. On some of the tracks I thought maybe a touch too bright but after listening for the whole session, no I don’t think so. Bass is slightly better also. I would also say that the bass is rounder/deeper in tone than the ES3’s. I enjoyed them on a wide range of tunes that I listed above.

ESR review

I have never listened to a better IEM! And with less fatigue after say an hour of listening too. From low frequencies to high, I heard a better overall balanced sound with the ESR. If I was buying, the price difference between the Bravado and ESR would not be an issue. I would definitely go with the ESR.

Both are highly recommended and should be auditioned if at all possible. That’s it, no pictures. You can find those on Head-Fi, youtube, etc.

Thanks again Empire Ears.
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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Extremely balanced sound signature, takes EQ well, highly revealing
Cons: not the most musical signature, very unforgiving of poor source material, cost.
First off, a heartfelt thank you to Devon and the Empire Ears crew for entrusting me with both the Bravado and the ESR as part of the review tour. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with both and look forward to trying additional members of the new product lines.


With the Kit and shell of the ESR and the Bravado being the same, if you have read my Bravado review, you can skip to the sound notes as the other sections are going to be extremely similar.


The outer package is a side opening pressboard box done in flat black with a silver Empire Ears logo on the top and the Name emblazoned on the flap. While not particularly obnoxious, I will say that Empire missed no opportunity to brand absolutely everything in the package. Inside the box is first a cardstock quick start guide again emblazoned with the large wings. Under that a large black drawstring cloth bag also with large silver logo. Under that, the hard case. The hard case has an aluminum inset in the lid with the logo, branding, and model designation written in black. The interior of the hard case is well thought out with protective compartments for each earpiece and a larger compartment for storing the cable and a small compartment for the cleaning tool at the end opposite the earpiece compartments. Under the hard case is a smaller cloth bag and a set of cleaning clothes. (Also in matching black). Honestly, if each piece was seen independently, the branding is tasteful and not overstated. When taken in all at once during the unboxing process, it can get a bit overwhelming as the cleaning tool was the only component that I did not find an Empire logo or branding on.



As previously mentioned, the package comes with a good assortment of bags, boxes, and wipes, but the tips, cable accessories etc… were all shipped separately. This may be a tour thing or it may be that with the arrival of two sets of IEMS that the shared items were not duplicated so were sent outside the packages. Accessories include the previously mentioned hard case, large cloth bag (that the hard case fits in) small cloth bag, cleaning wipes, and tip cleaner, in addition to Final Audio Type E tips, an Effect Audio 4.4 to 2.5 Balanced adapter, a 2.5mm balanced to 3.5 Single ended adapter, and a package of alcohol cleansing wipes. A cardstock page with details of the ESR and Bravado was provided as well and since both models are included, I would assume that item was specifically for the tour and not a standard item shipped with retail purchases.

Overall the kit is fairly complete although a couple additional tip options (Comply, spin-fits) would be welcomed as none of the provided tips was perfect fit for my ears. (more later).


Build IEM/ Cable

The IEMs themselves are a deep gloss black with a subtle Empire logo hon the faceplate and the model and serial number written on the under-side of the earpiece. Build quality is fantastic as seams are blended so well as to be difficult to detect without magnification. The bi-pin connector is so well fitted that were the color not slightly different it would effectively look like it was one solid part. Had I not previously been told the shell was a high impact plastic, I would have thought they were made of ceramic as the polish is that good and the seams that invisible. Overall, a masterful job. The only difference in the ESR and bravado in the shells is the number of ports in the nozzle as the Bravado sports 2 ports while the ESR has 3.

Both models were supplied with Effect Audio cables which have a sterling reputation for performance at with a retail of $150 for the cable alone, they should indeed perform well. The cable itself is thicker than some but still very pliable and microphonics were kept to a minimum as the earhooks on the cables were effective in preventing cable weight from transferring to the earpieces themselves. My complaints with the cables center around two items. First, nowhere on the length of either cable exists any strain relief. Not at the jack, the splitter, or the earpieces. For a cable in this price range, I expected that they be designed in a way assure longevity. I am probably harder on my iems than some as I wear them almost constantly during the work day and if purchasing the Bravado or ESR for my personal collection I would purchase a different cable that I feel offers better longevity.


The Second issue is the adaptors. Quite simply, they do not work well and should be avoided. I had numerous cut-outs while using either of the adapters and slightly twisting the connector in the adaptor would cause the channel to come back but at the expense of clicks or pops in the sound while moving the connector. If you need two different cables for use with different DAPs or amplifiers, I would strongly suggest you forego the adaptors and buy additional cables. I used a Norne Audio 3.5 Single Ended to bi-pin cable to do my single ended testing once I realized the adaptor could not be made usable.


The earpiece is on the large side but is deceptive in that it weighs very little. They sat in my ear without trouble and the earhook on the cable makes them fell weightless. Isolation is only average as the bulk of the earpiece sits well behind the ear canal. I did have some trouble finding a set of tips that both fit my ear and were comfortable. The large tips were too large to wear comfortably for extended periods while the mediums were just small enough to lose seal when I moved. The nozzles are standard sized so a quick search of my tips yielded several pairs that worked and I ended up settling on comply foams as they offered the best combination of comfort and seal. They likely tamed the treble just a bit but in testing with large spin-fits, I found that my observations held consistent so I do not think tip rolling dramatically influenced my listening experience.



Bass: The ESR is well extended and capable of delivering good sub-bass rumble when called upon, but is extremely well controlled. Mid-bass is tight and articulate if very slightly behind the lower mids. I heard no mid-bass bleed and the transition from mid-bass to mid is very clean with no coherency issues on the transitions.

Mids: Mids are again extremely well controlled and tight with the lower mids being slightly (and I mean very slightly) elevated in comparison to the upper mids.

Treble: Highs are deceptive in that the ESR is extremely well extended but not forward of the rest of the signature. I heard no tendency toward sibilance even with what I would call a fairly aggressive attack speed that makes high-hat sound particular realistic.

With the ESR being designed as a studio reference, rather than focus on the normal low/mid/high of my reviews, the focus needs to be on accuracy, detail retrieval, soundstage, imaging, and dynamics. I say this as the ESR is the blank canvas on which an audio engineer paints his masterpiece. As such, we expect all things in equal balance at the outset and any tweaks to be immediately translated into elevations or decreases in the resultant sound. The ESR does a great job in this respect. It is indeed just about ruler flat and responds to any change in EQ proportionally. While the ESR at first tends to be a bit dull or lifeless, it is quite possibly the most tunable IEM I have had the pleasure of trying. Perhaps the best thing about the ESR is the fact that EQ adjustments have very little bleed over into surrounding ranges and allow the user to tweak far more than most other IEMs allow. I could make the ESR bass heavy enough to satisfy all but the most ardent basshead or bright enough to bother my dog without tainting the rest of the signature. This is an amazing accomplishment and to me is proof that Empire’s discussion of their crossover technology goes well beyond marketing speak.

All that tweaking doesn’t help, if you aren’t hearing every element in the music, and for that reason the ESR has been given exceptional resolution with micro-detail being rendered effortlessly. This lends to vocals being well reproduced and nuances of varying recordings of the same song are readily evident.

Soundstage is harder to judge as it is very track dependent and the ESR is extremely unforgiving of poor recordings. Most of us find that as the quality of our gear improves, the size of our music collection decreases as we recognize more and more faults in things we had previously enjoyed. The ESR will definitely help you sort your music collection into the well mastered and not so well mastered categories. When fed a well-recorded and mastered LP like the Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions, the ESR is capable of delivering a soundstage with good depth, width, and height and a genuine feeling of space.

The same recording also does a great job of displaying the dynamics the ESR is capable of. From the almost whispered vocals to the thunderous bass guitar, the ESR handles it all well and never feels unnatural or strained even when pushed toward either limit.


For those who are opposed to using EQ, the ESR is going to be bland, lifeless, and boring even with its immense detail level. For those willing to tinker with EQ, the ESR is a chameleon that is capable of being as subtle or as raucous as you encourage it to be. If I could only have one IEM, I might well chose the ESR since I could tune it differently for different genre or differing moods.

The ESR is very definitely a niche product, it does not offer the most musical signature and is not likely to have people waxing poetic over the choir of angels in their ears while using them. For those who are in the business of critical listening or need to have an exact baseline to work from without any coloration or obscuration of elements, the ESR is for you. I found the ESR to be easily more resolving than HD700 and on par with HD800 over ears while providing much better isolation and less treble coloration than either. That is pretty high praise coming from me as I still think the HD800 is one of the best ever made and the 700 isnt far behind when looking for an analytical reference.


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1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Extremely revealing, very flat response, very responsive to eq, build, strong isolation, ideal for studio use.
Cons: very flat response, not really good for music, large frame (everyone might not be able to wear them), 2.5mm-3.5mm adapter often didn't have good contact,
I’ve reviewed a fair bit of headphones, several of them are so called “studio” headphones, others call themselves reference headphones. I, personally, don’t really give much weight when people or company call headphones a “studio” headphone because I’ve seen and spoken with producers who use Beats as their studio headphone. From my inexperienced and ignorant point of view I’d like to believe a studio product has a very flat frequency response. Now, I personally see a flat headphone and a reference headphone as very different beings. Flat makes everything sound the same, nothing in particular stands out or is different. Reference is a product that is very accurate sounding to what it would be if you heard them in person.

Why do I think a studio product should have a flat response? So the audio master can make adjustments while the artist is singing and hears what he/she wants the final product to be. If he/she was listening through, say a bassy headphone, he/she might decrease the bass because it sounds as if it’s coming across too heavy when in actuality it’s the headphones. So here we have Empire Ears studio iem offering, the ESR which is short for Empire Studio Reference. Will it meet what I believe a studio product is (which as I said earlier, is out of complete ignorance to actually mastering recordings)? Let’s find out.

A little about me

I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

I'm a firefighter for both the civilian and military sector and the cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

Equipment used at least some point during the review


-LG V20/HP Pavilion

-Playing Pandora, YouTube, and various format personal music


I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.

The Opening Experience



*EDIT* Your iem's will NOT come with tips already attached to them, this was an oversight on my part.

Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?

The Bravado and Empire Studio Reference (ESR) came together so I will copy and paste this section on both reviews.

But the iems from Empire Ears, from my Hermes VI so long ago to those of today I watch on YouTube have remained consistent in their well thought out and delivered impressions. To start with, you’re given a solid black box with only the Empire Ears logo printed on the front. As you fold the treasure chest back you’re greeted with a large, Empire Ears branded, carrying pouch that you can put everything inside the chest inside, the warranty and instruction manual, an Empire Ears branded cleaning silk like material cloth, a smaller carrying pouch that doesn’t fit more than the iems themselves, and lastly the Empire Ears plated with a custom logo of the buyers choosing hard case. As you open the super protective hard case you’ve the Empire Ears ESR iems equipped standard with the Effect Audio Ares II cable (terminated in buyers choice {3.5mm unbalanced, 2.5mm balanced, 4.4mm balanced}), and an ear wax cleaning tool.

Looking at the ESR itself, the only external difference I could see, is that the horn has 3 vent ports instead of the 2 on the Bravado. The shell design has remained the same from the Olympus lineup that I did a complete impression of way back when which is rather on the large side. Now, for products like their Zeus, which has 14 drivers, this is understandable, but for all of them, I think it’s rather large. The model sent to me is solid black with the “EE” logo in gold print but the buyer has an almost limitless customization ability and, at least from my personal experience and those who I’ve spoken with, the people working there are amazingly friendly and go above and beyond to make the buyer truly happy.

This, is what I wish more companies would be like. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of shaking Jack’s or any of his crew’s hand but I’d imaging it’d be as pride filled as these products came.



The construction of the Bravado and ESR iem, like the unboxing, is exactly the same so this section will also be mimicked between my 2 reviews.

I went a little too far in my unboxing and talked about the construction a little too much with its frame size and design but oh well I’ll just continue here. The frame itself is made of entirely standard plastic so nothing special there. The horn is the standard iem size (I do not know the exact measurement but it’s the size I see on the majority of iems) so for those who use aftermarket tips you’ll likely be able to use them with the all Empire Ears universal products. The cable is also DETACHABLE, which ,as I say in all my reviews and will continue to, is something that I feel should be standard. Though the iem is made from plastic I’m completely confident that it’s a very well built product. I can, sadly, personally attest from dropping my Hermes VI’s that they can handle a good size drop without even scratching (at least in my lucky case [I do NOT advise testing this yourself]). On the inside of the iem you’ve the product name printed along with, what I would assume to be, a serial number or a personal iem identification number. Now, the only difference between the ESR and Bravado, exteriorly, is that there’s 3 vent ports on the horn on the ESR whereas the Bravado only has 2.

The cable is beautifully made and feels as premium as it looks, which it should for it is a $150 cable if bought separately, and is made, according to the Effect Audio website, from 26 AWG UPOCC Litz Copper. Something that I’ve REALLY liked about them is that, at least to my ears, they don’t have any microphonics. It doesn’t matter if I’m just sitting or walking around, I haven’t heard any cable feedback from it brushing against my clothes. Now, an issue I did have is not in the cable itself but in the 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor from Effect Audio that Empire Ears included in the tour. The majority of the time the signal was nice and clean, but occasionally, for the only reason I can conclude is it isn’t making a completely solid connection the whole time, the left side will go out until I tap the adaptor. Nothing groundbreaking, and a very quick and easy fix but for something that costs SEVENTY DOLLARS, I feel this shouldn’t exist.

Overall the build quality of the iem is standard but also sturdy. They’re very lightweight but very large. Assuming you take proper care of these, they should last you for several years to come. My personal Empire Ears ciems have well over a thousand hours listening time from the almost 3 years time with them and they’re showing no sign of slowing down as I doubt yours will. Before I finish this section I do need to express some concern that I’ve found. Because the frame is so large, people with smaller ears (and/or ear canals) may not be able to wear this iem in either its universal or custom variant. I recommend you contact Empire Ears for help with this if you’ve smaller ears and have concerns.



Because the Bravado and ESR iem share the exact same framework, their comfort levels are also exactly the same. So, like my previous 3 sections, this section will be copied between this and the ESR review.

Once you get past the large framework of the iem, I personally find them no different than any other. They’re deceptively lightweight so I forget they’re even in my ear. Actually, that’s likely because the only contact they have with my ear is the horn and corresponding tip. So laying on your side with these is 100% out of the question. But in terms of long term listening durations, I’ve personally gone in excess of 3+ hours with these in listening in one session and have absolutely zero comfort issues or felt the need to readjust them (not that I can really adjust something that’s only making contact with my ear canal anyways). They do isolate VERY well. If you’re wanting to just listen to your music and don’t want to hear what’s going on around you them you’ll probably find yourself very happy with these (and I just used the default tips that came with these).

To conclude my thoughts on the comfort of these iems, if I’m listening to them in a position that doesn’t involve my side then I’ve not had any issues with them. I do have concerns with those with smaller ears not being able to listen to them but in the same sentence they wouldn’t have any comfort issues because they can’t get them in their ears.


Alas, here we are. The answer to what I asked in the very first section of this review. So, does it? The Empire Ears ESR is, to my ears, to date the flattest sounding product I’ve ever heard. The entire frequency band, to my ears, all sounds the same. For recreational use, I find this incredibly boring and bland. The ESR sounds like it’s a slab of clay ready to be molded into a masterpiece at the hands of a skills sculptor. Going back to my intro. this is exactly what I imagined a proper studio product sounding and/or being like. With this in mind I actually played with the EQ a little bit (and for those who are unaware, I really dislike meddling with the EQ. The way I see it is if I have to EQ a product to make it sound the way I want it then it’s not the product I want) and I must say, the ESR responds to equalizing amazingly well. Now, take that for what it’s worth because I don’t have a lot of experience testing it on products but I made the ESR sound completely different when playing around with the settings, which is what I’d imagine the master would hear as he/she’s mastering an artist.

With the above said, I reviewed it on its own merit as is. So going back to its sound, I find that it’s not to accurate to the recording as a whole. I listen to Adele’s album 25 quite a bit on VARIOUS different products and I’ve gotten a pretty solid idea how it should sound. When listening through the ESR though the vocals sounded fine the bass and treble sounded mellowed and subdued. The bass specifically sounds like it’s in a sound chamber. I’ll use the song “When We Were Young” as a prime example. The bass should be deep and have a good bit of decayed resonance in it, but the ESR produces it, flat, is the only way I can really explain it. Treble’s the same way. I’ll go into further detail in the individual segments but, in my opinion, the ESR is not an iem I would recommend for musical enjoyment, or even critical listening. After spending several hours listening to them I’m confident in saying these are made to be used in a studio/mastering like setting solely.

Another aspect that will make a strong studio product is the ability to expose all minute manners of detail present in a recording so that the master can ensure everything he/she’s hearing is exactly what the listener will hear on whatever equipment they will be using. Now, my goodness does the ESR excel in this area. I’m blessed enough to have several, quite high end, products in my possession, rather it be personal ownership or on loan, I get to hear some of the best the industry has to offer and though the Empire Ears ESR is quite a bit less than several of these mentioned products I’m finding that I’m discovering subtle cues in music that I’ve never heard before on my other products. To add to this the ESR’s ability of special awareness and placement is top tier for a headphone, let alone for an iem. It doesn’t matter it I’m listening to an acapella band like Pentatonix, or a full ensemble which Yanni very often utilizes I can listen and know where instruments/vocalists are and the imaging that comes from that is beautiful. Listen to the song “I Hold On” by Dierks Bentley. The melody continues throughout but you really only need to hear the first 10 seconds to hear what I’m talking about. But the imagine and separation in the ESR, when on a well recorded track, can give an impressive out of head experience that I’ve heard open back headphones not even come close to.

Sadly, as with many high tier class products, the ESR doesn’t play well with lower bit quality (mp3) music. Several songs I’ve tried with, with symbols especially, have a lot of sibilance in it. The only time I was really able to experience this is when I was watching some AMV’s on YouTube (perfect example I know [yet I also link to YouTube videos for you to hear the songs yourself :/]) and there’s several songs that there’s either a note that is way off how I know it sounds or the whole track itself just doesn’t sound quite right. The ESR just spotlights all the detail, including the hiss and crackles of the low bitrate youtube allows, and just spotlights them. But let me talk about the individual aspects of the ESR so that I may hopefully explain how I’ve found they sound a little bit better.


The highs on the ESR is quite nice. Though the ESR keeps it in check so that it doesn’t stray too far from the rest of the sounds, the detail and energy is still very much there. Listen to this very lovely piece by Saint-Saens. It’s very treble heavy (not sharp at all) and showcases the ESR’s ability to control the violin while keeping its energy and detail ever present.


The vocals are where I believe the soul of the music lies. Though I don’t find any deficiencies in the mid section, I also don’t find any hot spots either. The artists come through very accurately, regardless if they’re male or female, but the overall flat sound of the ESR just makes the vocals tie in with everything else in the track. Now, their emotion and their emphasise still comes through so I can still very much retrieve the overall pace of the song they were going for.

On a side note on the level of detail you’ll hear when listening through the ESR. When listening to a live recording or a vlog etc… you can very often hear the saliva from the tongue as the person talking begins to speak. So yeah, you’re going to hear whatever lovely that microphone is recording, without prejudice.


As mentioned above, the bass is, or at least to me was, the first thing I noticed was very mellowed out. Don’t mistake these for being a bass light headphone because they’re not. The bass is there but it’s just muffled. Not like it sounds distorted or anything like that but it’s like the bass is trying its hardest to push itself forward but the ESR is forcing to stay back and stay right in line with same sound level of the rest of the audio.

This’ll be a rather short section because I feel I will just be reiterating things I’ve already said but listen to the song “Lift Me Up” by Five Finger Death Punch. This provides a rock solid example of exactly what I’m trying to get across. The bass is still there and punchy, but it’s not free.



My overall thoughts on the Empire Studio Reference (or ESR) is that it was very difficult for me to review. I’m not a professional, in any aspects, of music so I’m admittedly ignorant to what makes a good “studio” product and only have my naive ideals. But from what I can listen to on them from an audio enthusiast aspect I find the sound to be very bland and unenjoyable for musical listening (media is even worse). Everything just sounds the same and unspecial and, at least for me personally, I really had a hard time listening to them but can fully understand the utilitarian aspect of what they’re designed for. When used in an environment where you’re editing sounds and need to be able to hear the immediate feedback and what it’ll sound like to the end listener, this is what, I’d image, you’re wanting for it responds to EQ incredibly well. It’s construction, though very large (and maybe too big for some listeners to even be able to use), it build very well AND has detachable cables. The customizational abilities that Empire Ears offers, and their customer service and desire to make the buyer completely happy with their product is something I’ve yet to experience in any other company I’ve done business with. So if you’re a music enthusiast and want an iem to just enjoy music and media with, then I’d truthfully recommend you look into the Empire Ears X series, for I honestly believe you’ll be much happier with that sound. However, if you’re a professional and are looking for a iem that provides incredible isolation and response to the faintest of adjustment and want to ensure you’re hearing every available detail in the recording, then you’ll find strong solace in the ESR.

Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.


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Pros: Good build, Detailed, crisp, good soundstage, comes with Effect Audio Aries II cable, excellent for critical listening
Cons: Not forgiving, not suitable for all genres of music
My take on Empire Ears Empire Studio Reference (E.S.R):

The build quality is superb on the shell you have Empire ears logo engraved in silver and the shell itself is black a bit transparent like you can barely see the drivers. It has detachable cable and it comes with Effect Audio Ares II 3.5 mm cable. The isolated is great too. It comes with foam tip and spin fit tips in S,M & L.


Now the sound:
It’s not yet burned in (I been on wearing this for hours now can’t put it down) This is my first review and I never been strong with words when it comes to music but I’ll try to explain the best I can. I’m sorry if it’s not accurate or if you see mistakes. I have Dunu DN2000 before this one. My sources is iBasso DX50, MacBook Air, HTC U11 but primarily its DX50.

So started with listening to one of my favourites What A Wonder World by Louis Armstrong, I was blow away by the details. Soundstage is huge! His voice is so clear and I can tell every instruments apart, that too very clearly and It’s not all in my face but far apart. I just loved it. I can’t believe how much details I can hear

Then I moved on to Hotel California (Hell Freezes Over version) The first guitar part I can hear the string all so clearly then the thud thud of drum!! the impact was just amazing. It feels like I’m sitting in the audience. I can clearly tell instruments apart. Don’s vocals are so crisp. The soundstage of this thing is amazing. (Sorry I have no words to express what I am here here, but I’m getting goosebumps as I’m listening to this song so that should tell you something and big big smile on my face)

Next one I heard is Evanescence - Immortal, I never felt so emotional, her voice is crisp and clear with so much emotions. I have listened to this so many times but this is the first time I can hear everything like the violin and piano I can tell them apart, I can hear the background vocals at times and it’s not all cluttered like I used to on my other IEM. E.S.R is impressing me with every songs I heard so far.

I decided to try classical this time, Wolfgang Rihm - Musik fur Oboe und Orchester. If I close my eye I can feel like someone is playing Oboe in front of me, it felt so life like. I can hear the artist lips touch the reed while he goes to the next musical note (This composition is Oboe driven) then the thunder of tuba is so life like and as mentioned in above I can hear the instrument apart. It’s a joy to listen to this piece of music especially on E.S.R I never enjoyed this much. It feels like you are sitting right there when all this happens. Then I listened to “Styx und Lethe” and feeling is the same!!

Now I decided to try with some pop songs. I started off with She Will be Loved by Maroon 5, I felt the too much treble like song is too bright can’t listen to long (Maybe it will be better after proper burn in) It’s not as much “fun” to listen to on E.S.R like it’s not forgiving (duh! It’s a monitoring IEM, I guess that’s expected lol) Also tried Alessia Cara’s Scars To your beautiful, I couldn’t get through the song like all cluttered and vocals music all pushed together, maybe badly recorded track (?)

Then tried Royals by Lorde (If you haven’t listened to this one, it’s a bass heavy track) Wow! Bass is controlled like it doesn’t over power the vocal and sub bass is really good too. Even this track I felt too bright (?)

I’m not a fan of Hip Hop expect for very few songs so wanted to try that while I’m at it. So tried Numb / Encore (Feat. Linking Park - Jay Z) This was surprisingly good! Like the music didn’t overpower the vocals and bass was good and not that bright like other tracks I tried.

Ok I’ll stop now lol If you read until this point, thank you! As you might noticed I don’t know much of audiophile terms so just wrote what I felt.

Now to the conclusion:

E.S.R is exceptional IEM maybe I’m new to high end IEM. It is neutral IEM but slight bump in mids I think. Vocal are really really good in IEM along with classical and jazz. I felt like it’s not great for POP or Hip-Hop music out there except for some. Like I mentioned before E.S.R is not forgiving when it comes to bad recording. I’m sure with better source this will shine even better. Thank you Ethan for helping me decide and Empire Ears for this amazing IEM.